Burma: Satellite Images Show Urban Destruction

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Map locating 450 buildings destroyed in August 2017 in a Rohingya neighborhood of Maungdaw town, Rakhine State, Burma.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

(New York, September 9, 2017) – New satellite images show hundreds of buildings destroyed in primarily Rohingya Muslim urban areas in Burma’s Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said today. Satellite photos taken on September 2, 2017, show 450 buildings destroyed by fire in the town of Maungdaw, the administrative capital of Maungdaw township. Satellite-based heat sensing technology indicated active fires in this area on August 28.

“The widespread destruction of urban areas in Maungdaw town suggests that Burmese security forces are not just attacking Rohingya Muslims in isolated villages,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Burmese government has an obligation to protect everyone in the country, but if safety cannot even be found in area capitals, then no place may be safe.”

Maungdaw Township Before and After Arson Maungdaw Township Before and After Arson

New satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch shows the destruction of at least 450 buildings in Maungdaw town. Satellite imagery displayed in false-color, near-infrared to highlight areas of extensive fire-related damages and burn scars. September 2, 2017.

Before: © CNES 2017 – Airbus DS 2017. After: © DEIMOS IMAGING – UrtheCast 2017

The damage shown in the satellite imagery is concentrated in two areas near the center of town, immediately north and east of Maungdaw prison, which are primarily inhabited by Rohingya Muslims. Expert analysis shows that damage signatures are consistent with fire.

Satellites initially detected active fires in the late morning and early afternoon of August 28 in these areas of the town. Reports from the State Counsellor’s information office reported clashes in the area where fires were detected on August 27 and 29, alleging that in both instances Rohingya militants burned homes of Rohingya and Hindu residents, but providing no evidence to back those claims.

“The Burmese government needs to grant access to independent monitors to determine the sources of fires and assess allegations of serious human rights violations relayed by Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” Robertson said. “Government and military authorities have repeatedly made claims without evidence, showing the urgency of allowing journalists and monitors on the ground to find out what’s really going on.”

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